Health Team

Herb helps child chemo patients

Posted January 8, 2010 2:13 p.m. EST
Updated January 8, 2010 7:23 p.m. EST

A new study finds that an herb could help young cancer patients dealing with liver problems that are a harsh side effect of the toxic chemicals used in chemotherapy.

"Children with leukemia will experience liver toxicity about two-thirds of the time," said Dr. Kara Kelly, with the Columbia University Medical Center. "Sometimes, that means we have to hold their chemotherapy or we have to reduce the doses."

Maisy Holehouse experienced those side effects when age 1½-years-old, she underwent chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common cancer in children.

"I remember lying in bed. That's all," Maisy said.

A new study found that an over-the-counter herb, called milk thistle, might help relieve those symptoms.

Fifty young leukemia patients with liver inflammation participated in the study. Those who took milk thistle showed improvement.

"To potentially have something that will allow us to administer the full doses of chemotherapy, that may help us in the future," Kelly said.

Maisy took milk thistle as part of the study, and her liver inflammation showed improvement. She underwent two years of chemotherapy and, at 9-years-old, has been cancer-free ever since.

"She is just an upbeat, loving, happy, robust girl," said Maisy's mother, Alice Coleman.

While more research is needed to better understand the benefits of milk thistle, Kelly said that Maisy's success shows promise for other young cancer patients.